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As his presidency passes its second anniversary, Muhammadu Buhari is back in a London clinic, being treated for cancer. His absences, about which few facts filter officially, are causing jitters. The president had been expected to deliver a major anniversary speech on 29 May but remained abroad. Chief of army staff General Tukur Buratai’s 16 May warning that “some individuals have been approaching some officers and soldiers for undisclosed political reasons” added to the febrile atmosphere.

Buratai’s warning pointed to a nation that is not at ease with itself. Continued Boko Haram activity in the north-east despite the army’s successes, and talk of secession in the south-east compound pressures on a government hard pressed to deliver growth and jobs. Buratai’s warning to Nigeria’s political elite to curb their more dangerous political games was undoubtedly timely.

Buhari is a sick man but not yet dead, as his spokesman has had to point out. He may yet, at least, complete his first term. Observers say that, for all his frailty and short working days, Buhari remains a force to be reckoned with; the former general is still barking orders from his London sickbed. His two years in office have not been unremittingly positive, but neither is his record as bad as those of previous administrations. Buying into Eurobonds and lining up big loans, international markets and institutions have been generally supportive, and vice-president Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo’s performance has been favourably received (AE 346/3, 340/21). Some sectors, including agriculture, can report genuine advances. There has even been progress with long-delayed oil sector reform, with the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill passed by the Senate on 25 May. This is the first part of the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has now been broken down into smaller pieces of legislation. As one veteran industry observer told African Energy: “It is natural to be cynical but I think we have to accept this vote as an advance which could mean a version of the PIB eventually passes into law.”

To underpin positive developments, much more work is needed to maintain national cohesion and reduce the risks of violent conflict: moderating relations between the nation’s regions will be a crucial factor in the months ahead. Northern powerbrokers are concerned that, unlike when Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in 2007 to be replaced by his vice- president Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the Niger Delta, the north must not lose out on its expected two four-year presidential terms. Osinbajo, who is from Lagos, has been praised for his work, but he is not likely to be allowed to repeat Jonathan’s performance of staying on in government after his northern Muslim president died. Many of the politicians jostling for power in the All Progressives’ Congress are rich Lagos politicians, but many of these see the need for a northerner to complete two terms – a view promoted by powerful insiders around Buhari including his nephew Mamman Daura and chief of staff Abba Kyari.

As jihadist insurgency in the north-east has diminished, pressures have been growing again in the south. The Nigerian Police Force recently warned a group of south-eastern groups all with Biafra in their name to “desist from activities that might be capable of breaching public peace”. This was ahead of protest rallies planned on 30 May in Imo, Anambra and other states of the south-east, which are marking 50 years since the Nigerian civil war. Questions of resource allocation and regional power structures central to Biafra’s call for independence half a century ago remain critical today. On one thing most Nigerians seem to agree: genuine peacekeeping missions apart, they want their soldiers to stay permanently in their barracks, to allow a still young democracy to tackle these problems.